Four South South States are still conducting illegal surveillance programmes on residents and opposition party members, according to an investigative report by online investigative paper, Premium Times. This is two years after the initial report by Premium Times.
According to Premium Times, Akwa Ibom, under Emmanuel Udom, and Rivers, under Nyesom Wike are still deploying the surveillance equipment. They also believe that Delta and Bayelsa States are deploying the equipment even though they have denied same. A source close to the Wike administration in Rivers State said the program was still running as at April 2017, but said it was on a lower scale.
“Governor Amaechi started the surveillance policy and the Wike government inherited it when he came to the office,” the source said. “But I think it has now been scaled down significantly.”
The source said the programme had helped combat criminal activities in the state, adding that it was the reason behind its procurement.
But erstwhile Commissioner for Information, Austin Tam-George before he resigned the position, said the state does not intercept residents’ phone conversations.
“As a matter of ideology, this state does carry out illegal surveillance against residents.” Mr. Tam-George said. “It would be unfair to conclude otherwise.”
Similarly, Rivers police spokesperson, Omoni Nnamdi, denied knowledge of any surveillance program.
“We only have joint patrol that includes the Nigerian Army and others,” Mr. Nnamdi said. “But I’m not sure I know of any spy programme or that I could confirm it.”
Akwa-Ibom, Bayelsa, Delta and Rivers States were named in the 2015 investigation that showed how governors in the four states in the Niger Delta, procured cutting-edge spying devices to monitor residents of their respective states, especially politically active opponents. According to the Report, Rivers State then under Rotimi Amaechi was the first state to deploy surveillance equipment, even though his officials denied it was being used for the said purposes.
Sources in the National Security Agency (NSA) said none of the states received approval to deploy the surveillance equipment. Public or private organisations with an intention to purchase surveillance equipment must secure End User Certificate from the NSA before doing so in accordance with the subsisting policy of the Federal Government.
Even though these activities are in contravention of the Cybercrime Act 2015, the Nigeria Police has denied knowledge of the activities of the Governors.
“We’re not aware of such,” the Nigeria Police spokesperson, Jimoh Moshood, said. “If any citizen has genuine complaints about possible intrusion on his or her privacy, such individual should contact the nearest police station”.
“We have our technical means to stay above criminals, but we’re not tapping people’s private conversations and the police will not condone such,” he added.
The revelations bring again to the fore, the vulnerability of private citizen data and how hi-tech hacking tools can be deployed by those with enough financial and political influence. Even incumbent governors and judges, have recently had their alleged phone discussions leaked.
Privacy Rights Activists such as Paradigm Initiative Nigeria (PIIN) are concerned about the development and have promised to tackle it. They urge the government to deal with the lack of a regulatory framework protecting Data and surveillance in Nigeria
According to Adeboye Adegoke, program manager at PIN, “We must not wait until someone as highly placed as the president is wiretapped and his secret conversations are uploaded on the Internet before something drastic will be done,” Mr. Adegoke said. To this end, PIN is championing the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill at the National Assembly to regulate surveillance and data protection
“We hope the bill’s passage will be expedited because it provides clear guidelines on the use of monitoring equipment,” Mr. Adegoke said. “Every Nigerian is entitled to unfeterred privacy”.